Faces of GSN

Life in the Fast Lane – Comments from Tommy B. Thompson (Published in April 2012 GSN Newsletter)

Growing up and being educated in New Mexico, along with life on a family ranch, introduced me to rural settings and set my path towards an outdoor career. My first job in the mining industry was a Summer position with Standard Metals Corporation at the Sunnyside mine area north of Silverton, CO. I had just received my B.S. in Geology (1961). The following Summer I tried the “oil patch” with employment from Humble Oil & Refining on the King Ranch in south Texas. That latter experience (i.e. never seeing a rock) convinced me that the mining/exploration field was more to my liking. I’ve never looked back!

On receiving my Ph.D. (1966, University of New Mexico; dissertation in the Sierra Blanca igneous complex of south-central NM where historic mining and active exploration were ongoing), I was offered a position with Bear Creek Mining Company; however, I had worked Summers for them and was moved several times each Summer. With a wife and 4 children, I decided I needed to have a set home site while the kids grew up. So, I took a faculty position with Oklahoma State University (I had been offered 3 faculty positions, and OSU was the university closest to the west where I wanted to work). Seven years, formulating the OSU Graduate Program, and being the token “hard-rocker” was enough, and I took a position in 1973 at Colorado State University. The next 22 years went by rapidly with more than 75 graduate advisees completing their degrees in Economic Geology. I was out on field projects every Summer, principally as a consultant, giving me the opportunity to work all over the western U.S. and Mexico (growing up in New Mexico had exposed me to Spanish as a second language). The Leadville district had just become active again prior to my arrival at CSU (I served as the Black Cloud mine geologist in 1981), and I enjoyed the work there, ultimately culminating in the Society of Economic Geologists Monograph 7 (Carbonate-hosted Sulfide Deposits: Central Colorado Mineral Belt, 1990, edited with colleagues and co-investigators; 9 of the papers in the Monograph are authored with or by former students). In 1980 the Cripple Creek district experi-enced reactivation, and my research expanded to that epithermal district; working in those 2 districts at the same time with many graduate students was invigorating. In addition, the “Mexican Mafia,” a group of congenial graduate students from Mexico, began to filter into our Economic Geology graduate program in the late 1970’s, opening the door to a variety of deposits throughout Mexico. In 1994 the College of Forestry & Natural Resources, within which the geology program was located, hired a new Dean (aka Federal Bureaucrat) who told me he “couldn’t support my graduate program“ as he wanted the College to be known for its environmentally responsible programs. I stayed at CSU through 1995 so that my last students could complete their graduate degrees, and I received emeritus status with retirement.

During the Spring, 1994 I had taken a sabbatical that was a 5-month trip throughout South America, visiting 57 mining operations and getting acquainted with companies and geologists in Ecuador, Perú, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. Additionally, I visited national parks and historic sites because of a “Geology of National Parks” course that I had taught for 5 years at CSU in addition to the Economic Geology curriculum. Machu Picchu and the Islas Galapagos were among some of those sites visited along with a visit to the Equator where I stood in both North and South America! That South American experience opened the door to many years of intense mapping and exploration for a variety of mining company clients throughout South America, including time at Yanacocha & Minas Conga in Perú and Veladero in Argentina to mention a few.

Returning home from South America in the Fall, 1996, I received a conference call from Chief Geologists of 3 companies asking why I hadn’t applied for a position at the Mackay School of Mines. My response was “I’ve done that and I’m enjoying the consulting work in Latin America.” They insisted on coming to Fort Collins, CO to visit with me about the new center that was being developed between the Department of Geological Sciences, Nevada Bureau of Mines & Geology, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Mining Industry. They convinced me to apply, and I came for an interview later that Fall. The rest is history!! Fourteen years + as Director, Ralph J. Roberts Center for Research in Economic Geology (CREG) and teaching the Economic Geology curriculum has been rewarding; however, many of the university administrators have been less than supportive as they don’t appreciate a program that prepares geologists to work in the minerals industry! In spite of those issues CREG has been a major contributor to graduate degree generation within the Department of Geological Sciences & Engi-neering. CREG has funded 56 M.S. and Ph.D. students with most going to the mining industry on degree completion. I’ve advised 34 of the 56 CREG-funded graduate students.

As part of my experience within the Society of Economic Geologists (Guidebook Editor (1986-2002), Vice President (1997), Distinguished Lecturer (1996), and the Marsden Awardee for Service (2006)), I helped open a Mackay Student Chapter that has been very active. Each Spring Break the members of the Chapter have organized a fieldtrip. Visits to Tasmania, Queensland (Australia), northern Chile, central Mexico, northern Mexico, Great Basin, and Turkey (this year) mines have expanded the students’ experiences beyond the classroom. The opportunities afforded UNR students as GSN members is an additional experience that is equally rewarding to them and me. To sum it all up...I wouldn’t change anything in my career choice!!

Tommy Thompson